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‘The Bachelor’ Recap: The Cognitive Dissonance of Season 25

Matt James made a bunch of cuts ahead of hometown dates, but right now, the show’s story lines are being overshadowed by its real-life controversies

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The Bachelor franchise has happily accepted that its contestants have broken contain and become a part of fans’ lives off of television. It seems odd that a show famous for its meticulous, manicured, and often manipulative editing style would welcome contestants creating their own stories, but the show has conceded the bursting of its bubble and now feeds off the extracurriculars of the Bachelor Nation Instagram Universe. Case in point: This year’s Bachelor is Matt James, who had never before appeared on the show, but became famous for his IG-documented friendship with franchise star Tyler Cameron. And when former contestant Heather Martin showed up on Monday night’s episode, the show’s current contestants quickly connected the dots that Heather was friends with former Bachelorette Hannah Brown, who is friends with Tyler, who is friends with Matt. As it did when Blake Horstmann’s philanderous activities at Stagecoach blew up in his face on Bachelor in Paradise, the show’s off-camera content once again fed into the show’s on-camera content.

But the show keeps running into problems because it’s repeatedly selected—either ignorantly or willfully, though it’s hard to imagine a production team as experienced as The Bachelor’s making any decisions unknowingly—contestants with indefensible histories. This season’s problem contestant is Rachael Kirkconnell, whose sins include (a) attending an antebellum-themed fraternity formal, (b) liking Confederacy-related posts on Instagram and TikTok, and (c) allegedly bullying white girls who dated Black guys in high school. The show’s story lines have been completely overshadowed by this off-camera saga, which came to a head after an interview that host Chris Harrison did on Extra with former Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay, in which he rushed to defend Rachael Kirkconnell. (Disclaimer: Lindsay also cohosts a podcast for The Ringer.)

Harrison essentially implied that Kirkconnell’s actions needed to be forgiven and forgotten—even though at the time, Kirkconnell hadn’t even apologized for them. (Several days after the interview went viral, Kirkconnell posted an apology on Instagram.) Harrison made the strange claim that while it might look bad to attend an antebellum-themed party at a plantation in 2021, it was a perfectly acceptable activity in society three years ago. (Reminder: The Bachelor had a horror-themed date at a plantation four years ago.) But his gravest error was demanding more empathy and understanding for Kirkconnell than the victims of her objectively hurtful actions. After this season’s premiere, I wrote about how Chris seemed particularly uneasy with the relatively simple task of asking Matt softball questions about race and the role it played in his dating. He looked uncomfortable in spite of the show’s careful editing—but unfiltered on Extra, he seemed comfortable hurling himself into the fray in defense of the racist actions of a girl who wasn’t even defending herself.

The show is proud of the fact that Matt James is the first Black Bachelor. Of course, the reason Matt is the first Black Bachelor is because ABC picked 24 consecutive white guys before him. The show wants to participate in racial progress—and celebrate its own participation in that racial progress—but doesn’t seem to understand its own role in propping up the walls it wants to tear down. I can’t imagine it’s that hard to find 30 attractive people a year who don’t have a history of racist behavior, yet it keeps happening: with Kirkconnell; with former winner Garrett Yrigoyen; with the racist who seemed to be deliberately cast to cause drama in the first Black Bachelorette’s season. The more times the show fails at this simple task, the more it feels less like a regrettable mistake by the show and more like an inherent flaw, especially when the face of the show proves to be so determined to downplay the racism in question.

There are still three episodes left in this season. I don’t read Bachelor spoilers, but I’m gonna go ahead and guess Rachael wins—it would explain why she got the same full-throated defense that Yrigoyen got after his transphobic and racist tweets came to light during Becca’s season of The Bachelorette. On Monday night’s episode, Rachael wins a group date rose that guarantees her a hometown date and leads to a special one-on-one dance with Matt while Aloe Blacc sings them a love song.

And so we’re once again stuck with a massive discrepancy between the on-show and off-show world of The Bachelor. On screen, we’ll see the show celebrating interracial love, and likely some sort of implication that this represents progress after decades of almost exclusively casting white people. But off screen, we’ll know that Rachael was accused of liking racist posts. If we see her in a wedding gown in the season finale, it’ll be impossible not to also recall the photos of her smiling in an antebellum-era dress. When the show celebrates its newfound diversity, it’ll be impossible not to remember its long history of underrepresentation, its refusal to more thoroughly vet its contestants, and its host’s impassioned plea that we forget racist actions rather than reckon with them.

It’s unclear what the path forward is. Harrison says he will “step aside for a period of time,” which includes this season’s reunion special. He’s hosted every episode of the 50-plus seasons of The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Bachelor in Paradise, Bachelor Pad, and other associated spinoffs, and the wording makes it seem like he doesn’t plan on taking a huge break. Harrison says he wants to “evolve” and that he is “on the path to anti-racism.” Rachael hasn’t denied anything, and says that she “deserves to be held accountable for my actions” and “hopes to earn [our] forgiveness through my future actions.” Maybe someday she will—people can learn and change. The real question is: Can The Bachelor?

Worst Decision: Bri

Oh, yeah, I guess I have to recap the episode.

Monday night’s episode presented the contestants with some roster math: There were 10 women left at the start of the episode, plus Heather—and only four spots available for next week’s hometown dates. The first rose ceremony of the episode cuts the number of remaining contestants to eight. But with an upcoming halving approaching, the eight remaining women realize it’s time to make bold moves to get into the final four.

Jessenia tells Matt she loves him; Matt essentially says “That’s nice, but I don’t love you back” and tells her to go home. Abigail, the recipient of this season’s first impression rose, asks Matt whether she’s still in the running; he tells her that because they started so strong, he decided to focus on other relationships instead of her, and now he likes all the other women more, and tells her to go home. (This might be Matt’s dumbest elimination of the year. Spend more time with the girl you like, dummy!) Kit tells Matt that she wants to focus on her career, and that Matt shouldn’t pick her unless he’s willing to wait until she reaches the ancient age of 25 to have kids. He’s OK with that—obviously—but Kit seems pretty determined to go home, and so she does. (Maybe she knew that her famous mother, Cynthia Rowley, definitely wouldn’t come to hometowns.)

But the biggest bombshell comes from Bri. She explains that after six weeks on the show, she had to make a decision with regard to her work—and that she has resigned from her position in order to fully commit to finishing the season with Matt.

Let me tell you, I yelled “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO” when she said this. Bri! What are you doing?!

We don’t exactly know what Bri’s job is—the show describes her as “communications manager”—but we get the sense it was a pretty good job. Matt describes it as a “dream job,” and before the season, Chris explained that Bri worked at “a high-profile tech company.” Maybe the show was just hyping up her cool job to increase the emotional impact of her decision to resign? But just the fact that she has to “resign” makes it seem like a pretty good job from a Bachelor perspective—you don’t have to resign from a job as an Instagram model. (I guess Victoria would’ve had to abdicate from her job as “queen.”)

So long story short: Bri! No! I hope the Revolve sponsorships pay well!

Most Obvious Plant: Peloton

Most Bachelor seasons feature at least one shot of The Bachelor pensively walking along a shore, looking out at the waves, contemplating the tough decisions he’s going to make. Unfortunately, everybody is bunkered in a hotel in Pennsylvania. The show could just repeatedly feature Matt staring out at the 13th hole of Nemacolin’s omnipresent golf course—but instead, he seems to be making a lot of decisions while working out in his hotel room.

Screenshots via ABC

And in case you might have thought that Matt was in deep thought while riding a generic workout bike, the cameras helpfully zoom in:

This was one stop short of having him say “Man, I really love making romantic life decisions while working out on my Peloton!” I believe this is the third time Matt has been shown on his Peloton this season. At this point, I’m honestly surprised the show hasn’t had a Peloton date where they put a bunch of Pelotons in one room and the women take the same Peloton class, and then Matt goes on a one-on-one date with the woman who gets the highest output on her Peloton. Free idea for you guys!

Second-Most Obvious Plant: “Snow”

Matt goes on one successful one-on-one date in the episode. Although I wouldn’t say it’s particularly successful—they do tantric yoga together, and Serena P. hates it, and Matt loves it, and seems generally oblivious to her obvious discomfort with doing sex positions on national TV. After the date, he thanks her for her honesty in explaining how much she hated the yoga and then gives her a rose.

They then go ice skating on an outdoor rink outside the hotel—she’s Canadian, this feels relevant—and just as they start to skate, a beautiful flurry of snow floats across the rink. Notably, though, it floats across the rink. Normally snow falls downward, but this snow seemed to be horizontal. And it didn’t seem to be falling anywhere besides the rink.

And then, when the camera zooms in on Matt’s kiss with Serena… we see that the flakes are roughly 2 to 3 inches long:

THAT IS NOT SNOW! THAT IS PAPER! Clearly, The Bachelor just ripped up hundreds of tissues and dropped them in front of an industrial-sized fan.

LVP: Heather

Monday night’s show starts with Heather’s entrance from last episode. She meets the show’s actual contestants, who ridicule her for about five consecutive minutes. Serena C. accuses Heather of “Bachelor-hopping” and compares her to a virus, which is the meanest thing you can say to somebody in 2021; Kit simply says “Bitch, what are you doing?” But it’s a quick interlude: While Matt initially entertains Heather, he thinks things over and eventually tells her that he’s too far along with the other women to let her join the journey.

So let’s recap Heather’s second stint on this show. On a recommendation from Hannah, she flew on a “red-eye” from San Diego to Pittsburgh and drove to Nemacolin. Upon arrival, she quarantined in a room for days without human contact, and then drove herself—in a rented minivan—to the resort. Then, upon finally meeting Matt, she was sent home within a few hours. And while the show normally provides a black car to eliminated contestants, Heather was forced to get back in the minivan and show herself out.

I can’t decide whether this is more or less embarrassing than women who show up and get eliminated on Night 1. At least those women appear for only about 30 seconds, while we really focused deeply on Heather’s arrival and instant rejection. I hope she at least gets some sort of minivan sponsorship deal out of this—say hello to the new face of the Chrysler Pacifica!